If you're reading my blog, you're probably someone familiar with the Fermi Paradox: If our galaxy is billions of years old, and stars like ours are common, and especially now that we believe all stars have planets and Earth-like planets are common, why the heck haven't we been visited by other aliens yet? Stars much older than ours abound, and we evolved intelligence and developed a technological society really quickly in galactic terms, so why isn't the galaxy teeming with megastructures like ringworlds and Dyson Spheres? Why don't we get regular alien visitors? Why isn't SETI picking up a constant interstellar dialog?

In light of these new discoveries, the Drake Equation suggests the galaxy ought to be TEEMING with aliens. So why haven't we met them?

Well, here's one dark-tinted answer: Does a galaxy filled with habitable planets mean humanity is doomed?

Other popular answers include:

Advanced civilizations don't use messy radio. Even our sphere of radio "pollution" is fading as we move away from that mode toward tight-beamed information and fiber.

Technological civilizations don't last long before they self-destruct. We might be proud of our nation, but the oldest continuous civilizations on this planet have durations in the thousands of years - that's just an eyeblink in the timescale of the galaxy... and we have only recently (in living human memory) invented ways to self-annihilate. Millions of equally advanced civilizations could have appeared and vanished before the Earth was even capable of supporting life.

On a related note: If a civilization is capable of creating the Matrix, they will. Animals seek comfort, and intelligent organic life is still a comfort-seeking animal. How many of you feel you could resist the siren song of everlasting immersion in a simulated (but absolutely realistic) world that satisfies your every need and desire? Heck, we could be living in the Matrix right now and not even be aware of it. If advanced civilizations go this deeply inward, they won't travel or communicate outward.

Advanced technological societies will always create AI, which will supersede them. This is the notion of the Technological Singularity. Relates to the prior notion if AI is benevolent, or to The Terminator or Berserker series if not. Good luck fighting something a million times smarter and faster than you, should it decide to eliminate you. Or save you to extinction, a la The Humanoids.

Planet-sweepers abound. Asteroids polish advanced life off the surface of the Earth every so often, supervolcanoes erupt even more frequently (and volcanic activity is important to creating life), even timid stars like ours go through periods of massive activity, supernovae eradicate life in their stellar neighborhoods, viruses and bacteria evolve much faster than complex life....

A Galactic Prime Directive that makes advanced civilizations invisible to the rest of us. This requires a massive bureaucracy and police force, and a population easily controlled, but it's possible. (Hint: This is the reasoning I use in The Adventures of Jack and Stella.)

They're talking, but we just can't decipher it. SETI mostly looks in the radio bandwidths, but why would super-advanced civilizations use such backwards tech?

No one has figured out faster-than-light travel. If they can't move around and colonize, we wouldn't have met them yet, and they'd be less likely to survive a planetary catastrophe if they're confined to one or a few worlds.

Or maybe everyone is just afraid of everyone else, so they're out there, everywhere, but quiet, afraid to announce themselves. If they are like us, first-contact situations don't end well, and there's no rational reason to believe everyone you'll encounter is less-advanced than you.

Do you have a favorite reason that explains why 1) the galaxy isn't teeming with life, and 2) if it is, why we haven't yet detected it?

Chris
Okay, if you're like me, you loved The Iron Giant. It's one of the best science-fiction movies ever, a touching story of friendship and meaningful social commentary (both past and present, as discussed in this Wired article). It works great for both the YA crowd and adults. It garnered both Hugo and Nebula Award recognition. I loved the simple, hand-drawn animation. And even though we all cry when the iron giant gets blown to smithereens heroically saving the town, we cheer when we learn during the final sequence that he's piecing himself back together again.

Hooray! Happy ending!

Except... did you know that the writers and director left out a crucial scene in the theatrical version? One that provides the iron giant's back-story, a scene they wished they had been able to finish? Here it is in sketch and voice-over form:
HOLY CRAP.

You know what that means? Right: The iron giant is part of a Berserker-like army of planet-killing monsters, and our Lovable Iron Hero™ participated in xenocide and planetary destruction on at least one occasion prior to visiting Earth. Only a knock on the head saved all life on this planet from his murderous programming.



So, when he reassembles, will he be whole again? Following original programming? And thus destroying all life on Earth - maybe Earth itself? And what of the rest of the robot army? Are they on their way here, too, or maybe nearby, searching for their missing life-annihilating soldier? HOLY FINAL-MASS-EXTINCTION, BATMAN!

Note that the movie dudes talk about this unifinished scene not as a bad idea or something they decided to cut because it WOULD CAUSE ETERNAL NIGHTMARES for the kids in the audience, but as an important part of the iron giant's back-story. So THIS HAPPENED, people. The iron giant murdered BILLIONS of life-forms - nay, TRILLIONS. And that's if he only destroyed one planet.

And where is this army of life-hating Berserkers now? I'm assuming they didn't arrive in the 1950s of the movie's time, because our tech then would have ensured Earth's annihilation. Are they en route now? Could we hope to repel them using today's tech? Could the nations of Earth unite in time to defend our planet against such machines? I mean, nuclear weapons cannot destroy these monsters! They just disperse the parts until they can reassemble. Even if we could stop one, could we hope to stop AN ARMY OF INDESTRUCTIBLE MACHINES THAT ARE ESSENTIALLY SENTIENT, PLANET-KILLING GUNS? And even if our Iron Giant Hero™ were to retain his flawed programming and try to defend us, could he possibly hope to stand against an army of similar beings?

Doubtful, even if his name was John Rambo.

So I think we know why they never made a sequel. It wasn't because the movie flopped at the box office; something called The Iron Giant 2: The End of All Life on Earth wouldn't be quite the child-friendly film the audience might expect.

I'll watch this movie in a different light next time, that's for sure.

Chris
"What's the Occupy movement all about? They have no agenda except to beat drums and bitch and stink up our parks with dirty hippies."

You hear this a lot, especially from those who think that the banking system or Corporate Persons will save us; in other words, from peopel who forgot that those very institutions are the reason we're in the mess we're in today.

What the Occupy movement means to me:

1) Rein in the banks.
2) Restore power to the human beings of our country.
3) Re-establish representational equity.
And a bunch of other stuff, too, but those are the top three as I understand 'em, and what matter most to me.

Watch this great vid that clarifies the Occupy movement the best I've seen so far. Afterward, you can respond to those who question what we're all about without any hedging. Great stuff:

I wrote an essay decrying the rise of dangerous corporate power back in 2002, and I think it's even more relevant today.

Don't fear The Terminator, folks; non-human entities are already our masters. The Occupy movement seeks to dethrone them and restore humans to power. Think Londo Mollari's Drakh Keeper in Babylon 5: We all serve our masters even as they drain us of life and destroy our freedom.

No more. Occupy! Change the system!

Chris
Author Monica Valentinelli shares an essay about the value of social media and how its presence and absence affects her writing. I have discovered pretty much the same things whenever I've taken a break from LJ/FB/Twit/etc, and I bet I'm not the only one. Unless you're seriously addicted, I don't think you need to go cold-turkey as Valentinelli did - a day or two off, and you'll discover whether you're addicted or not.

Speaking of which, off goes teh interwebs! I'm off to wrap up some work stuff and then get some of my own work done. I won't be gone for months, though - more like hours ;-)

Chris
I'm in the midst of planning for my spring "Science, Technology, & Society: Examining the Future Through a Science Fiction Lens" course, and was researching a bit for interesting material. Here's some of what I found.

Are you the very model of a singularitarian?



Speaking of transcendental or catastrophic change, this book on Armageddon Science looks interesting. Here's an interesting interview with the author, discussing various end-of-humankind scenarios.

[Poll #1659680]
Later: How do we avoid such scenarios?

In related news, have you seen the Google Ngram Viewer? Interesting tool for seeing word usage in the books that Google has scanned. Note how "natural philosophy" reaches peak usage in the early 1800s, while "fuck" saw its peak usage from the late 1600s to the early 1700s, appearing almost not at all from the early 1800s through the 1960 or so. "Extinction" doesn't see much regular use until the late 1700s, becoming more popular ever since. What can we learn from these trends? Just sayin'.

Singularitarianly yours,
Chris
Yesterday's big news was all about Stephen Hawking's warning against seeking out aliens. Why? Because they're likely to turn out to be Space-Vikings intent on stealing our land and pillaging our women! Or something like that.


Click the image to see the story.


The opposite view is that any species advanced enough to travel interstellar distances will have needed to learn cooperation on a massive scale, would have survived internal conflicts long enough to do so, and would have likely passed through the technological Singularity. What do you think?

[Poll #1556972]

Chris
Here's a trend I want to see continue: Judge Invalidates Human Gene Patent. Not only does patenting genes make no sense (What, those corporations invented the genes they've patented? Nonsense.), but it also limits scientific research and throws up all kinds of ominous portents. If a corporation owns the rights to specific genes you carry in your body, do you trust them to behave innocently and for the public good? Um.

Bravo, United States District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet! More of the same, the rest of you judges.

Chris
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